Education Department Holds Penn State Accountable for Sexual Misconduct in Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Jerry Sandusky
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

The U.S. Education Department announced Thursday its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is holding Penn State accountable for failing to protect students from sexual abuse as was discovered during the scandal involving assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

“As I’ve said before, ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ and for too long the students of Penn State have been denied justice,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a statement.

The secretary added:

I committed to clearing out the backlog of cases we inherited from the previous administration, and we are doing just that. I hope resolution of this Title IX investigation and the changes we are requiring will help to bring continued healing to the Penn State community.

In a letter of finding sent to Eric J. Barron, Ph.D., Penn State president, OCR wrote:

This compliance review was launched in light of the revelations of former University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of minors at the University, and the wholly inadequate response thereto by former highranking University officials. As a result, it is critical that the University have policies and practices in place to prevent the recurrence of such abuse. Accordingly, the compliance review examined the University’s handling of complaints of sexual misconduct, with particular emphasis on complaints of sexual assault, to determine if the University has responded appropriately.

DeVos and the OCR are requiring major changes at Penn State in the wake of the Obama administration’s failure to resolve the investigation that launched in early 2014.

According to a press statement from the department:

With the conclusion of this investigation, OCR is holding Penn State accountable for its failures to have systems in place that protect students, including when sexual misconduct involves athletic staff.  The University must now provide for individual remedies for survivors whose complaints OCR determined that Penn State failed to handle promptly and equitably, revise its recordkeeping practices to ensure proper documentation of sexual harassment complaints, and report to OCR on the handling of all Title IX complaints for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years.

After a review that included policies and procedures on eight campuses of Penn State, OCR discovered the school was still violating Title IX, the federal civil rights law that was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, across several years, including:

During the 2016-2017 academic year for student complaints and the 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 academic years for complaints first reported to the Athletic Department, Penn State failed to appropriately respond to complaints of sexual harassment.

During the 2016-17 academic year, the University failed to maintain records necessary for OCR to determine whether the University complied with Title IX. During the 2017-2018 through the 2019-2020 academic years, the University continued to fail to implement adequate record-keeping practices.

During the 2019-20 academic year, the University’s Title IX policies and procedures failed to provide adequate notice to students and employees of the procedures; to ensure fair and appropriate investigation of complaints; to provide procedures for complaints alleging discrimination based on sex carried out by employees and third parties; to provide designated and reasonably prompt timeframes for the major stages of the complaint process; and to provide notice to parties of the outcome of investigations of complaints.

In addition to these violations, OCR also found that the school had recently failed to allow for due process by imposing “interim suspensions prior to providing the accused an opportunity to respond to allegations.”

According to the department, OCR and Penn State have entered into a “Resolution Agreement” that requires the school to provide for individual solutions for its failure to file the complaints of students promptly and report to OCR on its procedures in the current and coming academic years.

Penn State must also revise its current Title IX policies and documentation practices to ensure they respond to sexual harassment complaints appropriately and with accurate record-keeping.

In addition, the school must ensure all university and athletic staff receive Title IX training.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus said in a statement:

Given all of the attention that Penn State has faced in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it is disappointing that so many serious problems have remained at that university system. As OCR has demonstrated, schools will be held responsible for how they respond to complaints of sexual harassment. We are pleased that Penn State has now agreed, in a spirit of cooperation, to fix the problems that we have identified. OCR will closely monitor the University to make sure that it fulfills the requirements of the Resolution Agreement.

In November, Sandusky was effectively given a life term in prison when a judge resentenced him during a hearing ordered by an appeals court to the same 30-to-60-year term that was imposed in 2012 for sexual abuse of children.

In the wake of Sandusky’s 2011 arrest, Penn State Hall of Fame head coach Joe Paterno was fired and the university paid out more than $100 million to individuals who claimed Sandusky had abused them.

As the Associated Press reported, Sandusky, 75, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in 2012, but continued to assert his innocence.

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